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‘Kids don’t only learn academics at school’ Looking at the mental health impacts of keeping kids home

Posted at 4:29 PM, Aug 05, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — The deadlines for parents to choose whether their child will learn in-person or online this upcoming semester is quickly approaching for many districts. The deadline for some districts has already passed. There is a lot of questions surrounding the decision.

There have been protests by teachers, demanding safer re-opening plans, while others have rallied for a full return to class.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA) and AASA, The School Superintendents Association released a joint statement that said in part:

“Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”

“Kids don’t only learn academics at school. They learn about rules and how to follow a routine and how to follow structure,” Dr. Annie Deming, PhD, Psychologist at Primary Children’s Hospital, said.

Kids learn from each other and teachers while also learning important life skills, Dr. Deming said.

“Part of what school really helps us do is it’s more of a process of thinking than learning specific information. I mean the specific information is important too, but it’s a process of thinking about things, critical thinking, understanding that there are different perspectives, understanding that people see things in a different way than you and there’s reasons for that,” she said.

Children also learn routine while in school, one of the many things middle school special education teacher, Paige Jolley, said she is considered about if her students stay home.

“More than anything I think I am thinking about what if we do have to shut down our schools again and quarantine for two weeks or a few days, I worry about that structure interruption for my kids,” she said.

Her students rely on the resources provided at school and an interruption in routine or missed therapy can have a negative impact, Jolley said.

“I worry about the long-lasting effects of missing out on those services,” she said.

The concern for the negative impacts on students goes beyond her classroom, Jolley said.

“Once a week our whole entire school participates in social, emotional learning and so I really worry about kids not only in special ed but kids in our entire school and every school that are missing out on social and emotional development which is so crucial for them,” she said.

There is no simple solution or answer, Dr. Deming said. While they have seen an increase in children suffering from anxiety and depression, other children thrived when school was moved online. However, overall health, including mental health, needs to be looked at, she said.

“Talking about health as a whole is, I think, a very important direction to go in, rather than separating the two and the fact is we do have this disease going around that is dangerous for people,” she said.

For more information on school safety in Utah, click here.